Extraction of oxygen from lunar regolith is a critical milestone in establishing a lunar station that supports missions to Mars and beyond. Oxygen extraction systems rely on solar concentrators to heat regolith to the required reaction temperatures. Opterus proposes development of a lightweight, high power, deployable solar concentrator (DSC) to support this need. Existing traditional rigid reflectors are accurate but untenably heavy, while previously developed inflatable reflectors are light, but have high shape error and low efficiency, which limits their achievable temperatures. Opterus’s DSC is a thin, composite, folding parabolic concentrator that uses curved fold lines and connecting hinges to achieve both low mass and high shape accuracy. The proposed reflector technology is made thin and light by using extremely stiff carbon composite material, which would be made highly reflective through vapor deposition of a metal topcoat. DSC’s hinges fully connect reflector gores to maintain stiffness, while still allowing the reflector to fold for launch. Opterus estimates that such a reflector, if made to an approximately 1 m diameter, would have a power-to-weight ratio of approximately 2980 W/kg. Within the proposed Phase I effort, Opterus will work with NASA to size a concentrator that meets NASA’s system needs, and then optimize our existing folding shell design to minimize weight and packed size, minimize shape error and maximize concentration ratio. The composite lay-up will be selected to minimize the coefficient of thermal expansion. Opterus will produce a scale prototype up to 1 m diameter, measure its shape under 1g loading and demonstrate packing. Opterus will also perform a detailed thermal analysis to determine expected shape error from thermal loading. In a Phase II effort, Opterus will complete system design, as well as demonstrating a complete system with a physical vapor deposition reflective coating.
Opterus’s proposed deployable solar concentrator (DSC) is expected to see first use in NASA lunar missions, as part of a system to extract oxygen from lunar regolith. As stated in the solicitation, “Solar concentrators have been used to successfully demonstrate multiple [In-situ Resource Utilization] technologies,” but existing rigid concentrators are too heavy for space applications. Opterus will align DSC development with NASA’s Moon to Mars mission. DSC is also applicable to potential ice melting missions and solar concentration for power.
DSC technology is also applicable to antenna and radar applications, which are of interest to the commercial sector and the Department of Defense for constellations of small satellites with communication, imagery, and moving target applications. These systems are short lived and must be low cost. Existing mesh reflector antenna are costly, while DSC reflectors are cost-efficient to build.